On February 28, 2009, the 37th annual School Nutrition Association Legislative Action Conference (LAC) unofficially kicked off with two pre-conference education sessions on lobbying state legislatures and the financial challenges of school nutrition today, along with several meetings. We will be blogging live from the conference over the next few days until the gathering closes on Wednesday, March 4, 2009. To get us started - here is a quick preview of the upcoming meeting:
It will be a jam packed four days and we will try to cover it all right here. Stay tuned and join in by posting your thoughts below!
We are almost a third of the way into 2009, and more and more priorities and 'wish lists' are appearing for child nutrition reauthorization. We thought we would try to list them all here - or at least a good number of them. Space won’t allow us to go into much detail but this will give you a sense of the scope and variety of topics being discussed. These are the issues and policy agendas of a wide variety of groups that would like to see changes made to the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program this year through the reauthorization process.
We will start with SNA: the legislative issue paper has already been discussed on the blog (funding and nutrition standards stand out as the two big issues), but the issue paper addendum with a variety of other issues is still in development. The addendum, which will be vetted by SNA’s Public Policy and Legislation Committee and approved by the SNA Board of Directors, will categorize and prioritize issues in addition to those outlined in the 2009 Legislative Issue Paper.
SNA also works closely with two large coalitions. The first, the Child Nutrition Forum, has reauthorization goals around improving access to nutritious foods in schools, child care centers and homes, in afterschool programs, on weekends, during the summer, and in the home; enhancing the nutritional environment to promote healthy eating habits for women and children (includes WIC); and modernizing and streamlining program operations to improve program integrity and efficiency. Read the complete statement of principles here.
SNA also is active in the National Alliance for Nutrition and Activity, with key priorities on funding, nutrition standards, wellness policies, and nutrition education. Read the full list through this link.
Among the many issues being advocated for:
February 19, 2009 -- The headlines say it all. “School lunch programs in a money crunch.” “School meals costs may go up.” “School lunch program is in the red – and it’s not ketchup.” While participation is rising, the costs associated with these programs continue to skyrocket. In the past year, both food and energy costs have widely fluctuated, while labor costs continue to increase. School nutrition directors must also meet the tastes of increasingly demanding customers. In many areas, the school nutrition programs are expected to provide students with organic, hormone free, locally grown, or scratch made items. As districts nationwide continue to implement the Dietary Guidelines for Americans with more expensive items such as whole grains, low fat dairy, and fresh fruits and vegetables, school nutrition programs are forced to do much more with much less.
According to a Fall 2008 study conducted by SNA, it costs school districts approximately $2.92 cents to prepare a school meal. Currently, school nutrition programs are reimbursed at $2.57 for free meals. That leaves a gap of about 35 cents that school districts must supplement. Some states provide additional funding, but that money often falls short. School nutrition funding is also at risk in some states, where legislators look to cut budgets squeezed by the current economic crisis. In school districts where paid participation is high, the paid meals help to offset some costs, but many of these programs are still running in the red.
To combat this problem, the School Nutrition Association is asking for a 35 cent increase in the reimbursement rate for all school meals. SNA is also calling on Congress to readjust the reimbursement rates for the other meal categories to better reflect the true cost of preparing a meal. School nutrition programs are required to be financially self-sufficient. As food prices continue to rise and families struggle to pay for school meals, it is becoming increasingly more difficult for school nutrition programs to stay in the black.
Many pundits have asked: if school nutrition programs are getting so expensive to operate, why not scrap the program and let students / parents pack their own lunch? These commentators miss the purpose of these programs. Approximately 19 million children are served either free or reduced price meals each day. These are children living in poverty, with both parents working multiple jobs to make ends meet. A school lunch may be the only nutritious meal of the day they eat. Additionally, all students who participate in the school nutrition programs receive a well balanced, healthy meal that must meet federal nutrition guidelines. Lunches brought from home do not have to meet standards and independent studies show that they often lack nutritional quality.
Therefore, SNA has designated increasing reimbursement rates as the top issue on the 2009 Legislative Issue Paper. How will increased reimbursement rates help your school nutrition program? Please share your thoughts in the comments section of this entry.
February 12, 2009 - Yesterday a meeting of the child nutrition Reauthorization forum was held at the offices of the Food Research and Action Center in Washington, DC. The forum is co-chaired by SNA and the Food Research and Action Center and includes over one hundred anti-hunger, religious, education, medical, nutrition, direct service, school food, preschool and child care, union, children, after school, industry and agricultural groups representing over 20 million members in all. These organizations have joined together again in 2009 to advocate on behalf of the child nutrition programs.
The meeting yesterday included about 20 groups in person and on the phone from around the country. Discussions focused on the budget process and a multi pronged strategy for reaching out to the Obama Administration and Budget Committee members in the House and Senate. The Administration is expected to present an outline of the upcoming fiscal year budget on February 24, 2009.
The critical question right now is how much money to ask Congressional and Administration leaders to set aside for the child nutrition reauthorization bill. In order to fund the key priorities outlined in the Forum's Statement of Principles (see blog post from Feb. 3, 2009, below for more info) it is estimated that $4 billion per year should be set aside, over five years. The challenge becomes making the case for this amount of funding. One way SNA members can help is to sign on to the Statement of Principles. The more groups - especially grassroots groups like food banks and school nutrition chapters at the local level - that sign on to the Principles, the better the odds of securing the funding necessary to achieve a meaningful and significant child nutrition reauthorization. Look in the very near future as well for sample letters to the editor and other tools to bring the need for funding to the public.
What can you do right now?
Sign your group on to the Child Nutrition Forum Statement of Principles now - and build the momentum and the movement towards adequately funded child nutrition programs. Click here.
Take a few minutes and fill out the form here to provide your personal anecdotes and experiences on why adequate school nutrition funding is needed in your school district and nutrition program: Click here.
Please post a comment below to share how you are organizing within your state, chapter or community to build support for school nutrition funding. We have heard of great ideas and actions happening already in Pennsylvania and Connecticut. Who else?
One of the items school nutrition professionals identified as a needed imporvement to the school nutrition programs through child nutrition reauthorization this year is funding for school foodservice equipment, whether to purchase new equipment or to maintain and repiar existing equipment. In response to the need, a school foodservice equipment grant program is being debated as part of the Senate econimc recovery and stimulus plan. The proposal calls for a grant program of $198 million to be made available through states to school district nutrition programs.
Because several Senators and columnists have questioned the school foodservice equipment grant program as an item that may not belong in the stimulus bill, we thought we'd take a closer look at why such a grant program is needed and what effect it could actually have with regard to job creation and preventing job loss:
In the early 1980's Congress eliminated funding for foodservice equipment for schools. Many school districts have not been able to replace their cooking equipment since that time. Whether as part of the stimulus or part of child nutrition reauthorization, Congress can and should take the opportunity now to both boost the demand for these manufactured items while at the same time providing schools with the equipment they need to prepare even more healthful meals in school kitchens.
If you’re a frequent reader of SNA’s weekly policy e-newsletter Tuesday Morning, you’ve probably seen numerous articles requesting your state association to sign on to the Child Nutrition Forum Statement of Principles. Are you curious to learn more about the CN Forum and why SNA encourages you to sign on to the Statement of Principles? If so, then read on for answers to your questions!
During Reauthorization years, the School Nutrition Association joins forces with several hundreds of other organizations through the Child Nutrition (CN) Forum. The CN Forum was founded in the late 1970’s by former Senator George McGovern (D-S.D.), an ardent supporter of the federal food assistance programs, including the child nutrition programs. Co-chaired by SNA and the Food Research and Action Center, the CN Forum includes a variety of anti-hunger, religious, education, medical, nutrition, direct service, school food, preschool and child care, unions, children, after school, industry and agricultural groups. These organizations have joined together again in 2009 to advocate on behalf of the child nutrition programs.
The Statement of Principles outlines the goals of the CN Forum. There are three key issues that the members of the CN Forum are asking Congress to enact legislation that:
To view the detailed statement, please click on the CN Forum Statement of Principles link.
Why is it important for your school district, SNA chapter, or state association to sign on to the Statement? Individually, each organization is a small voice. When united, these groups are much louder and therefore, much more effective. The CN Forum is comprised of many very diverse organizations, ranging from very large groups such as the American Dietetic Association and the American Federation of Teachers to many small national and local organizations including the Afterschool Alliance, Mazon – A Jewish Response to Hunger, the Peoria, Ill. Area Food Bank, and the First Congregational Church of Essex Junction, Vermont.
Please encourage your state association, your school district, even the local civic or religious organization you are a member of, to sign on to the CN Forum Statement of Principles. United together, we can accomplish great things for our children.
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